Red/Blue Delver in Oath of the Gatewatch Standard

 

I’ve been trying to make a tempo-based Red/Blue deck work in Standard since I first saw Monastery Swiftspear and Treasure Cruise, but have never been able to fill the deck without having to lower my standards in card selection. With Origins came Abbot of Keral Keep and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy which reignited my interest in the archetype, but after testing and taking the deck to an SCG Open, it was apparent that I was still grasping at straws, vulnerable to sweepers without a reliable evasive threat, while running on a sub-par manabase. Now, with the release of Wandering Fumarole and Stormchaser Mage, the final pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place, and after initial testing this is the first list I’ve come up with:

Creatures

4x Monastery Swiftspear

4x Abbot of Keral Keep

4x Stormchaser mage

4x Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

2x Jhessian Thief

Spells

4x Wild Slash

1x Fiery Impulse

3x Expedite

3x Clutch of Currents

3x Exquisite Firecraft

2x Brutal Expulsion

3x Treasure Cruise

Lands

4x Bloodstaind Mire

4x Polluted Delta

2x Wooded Foothills

4x Mountain

3x Island

1x Sunken Hollow

1x Smoldering Marsh

4x Wandering Fumarole

Sideboard

4x Radiant Flames

3x Disdainful Stroke

2x Dispel

1x Painful Truths

3x Roast

2x Rending Volley

The idea of this deck is a classic Delver-style approach: get ahead fast on the first two turns with cheap, efficient creatures, then throw your opponent off balance through disruption, removal, and sheer card advantage while those creatures finish the job. The deck consistently builds up a strong board in the first 2-3 turns, then can play the traditional delver-tempo game supporting a steady stream of uninterrupted damage, but also has another, more dangerous approach that it can switch to without warning. Notice every creature (except Jace) has prowess, so once you start casting the slew of cheap removal and combat tricks on turns 3 or 4, you can create some very explosive turns and close the game extremely quickly by “storming” off.

Even if the opponent manages to stabilize through the mid-game, they are likely in for a long grind once our late-game cards like Treasure Cruise, Jace, Wandering Fumarole and even Abbot of Keral Keep begin the take the reigns, while the constant threat of lethal burn and roided-up haste creatures looms over their head. The deck has an elasticity to it that is rare to find, as it can seamlessly switch roles from aggro to control to combo and back before your opponent even realizes what happened.

In early testing, this deck has felt nothing short of spectacular, with a smooth mana base to compliment its speedy game plan of controlling tempo early. The consistency of its fetchland suite is the primary reason to play R/U/b over Jeskai decks, despite the temptation of cards like Monastery Mentor, Seeker of the Way, Jeskai Charm, and Mantis Rider. Those are truly great cards, but unlike Jeskai, this deck RARELY stumbles on mana, and such consistency is achieved with just 23 lands, 4 of which are manlands that double as threats, making our draws more potent. We can run on 3 mana reliably (even 2 for a while), but still welcome additional lands for mana sinks like Wandering Fumarole, Abbot of Keral Keep, Treasure Cruise, Brutal Expulsion, Clutch of Currents with Awaken, and “storm” turns where we cast multiple spells while stacking prowess triggers.

Jori En

People often wonder why I don’t run Jori En, Ruin Diver, for which I have many reasons. First, she is slow–3 mana is a lot to ask for a 2/3 creature in a deck that wants to slip under your opponent with hyper-efficient creatures. Ideally, by turn three we want to have mana available to either put our opponent on a fast clock with burn and prowess triggers, or to react to their creatures/removal. While her ability is desirable, it is by no means necessary since we already have so many ways to get extra cards every turn without having to restrict our plan to casting 2 spells per turn. Imagine a scenario where you have resolved Jori En, but the best line of play involves casting one spell on your turn, and one spell on your opponent’s turn–in this case she’s doing nothing for you except being a 2/3 for 3, which doesn’t pass the vanilla test and is tempo-negative. At the end of the day, she is simply not aggressive, resilient, or synergistic enough to include in this build, although I look forward to brewing with her in other decks.

Jhessian Thief

Instead, Jori’s potential slot is filled by Jhessian Thief, which functions better with the deck’s aggressive and versatile strategy while also being able to pump up to 4 or 5 toughness without much sweat, making her much more resilient and reliable on both offense and defense. Jhessian Thief, along with Stormchaser Mage, survive when we need to cast Radiant Flames for 3, then proceed to swing for heavy damage while reaping massive card advantage. Although Jori En has the potential to draw you more cards over the course of several turns, Jhessi fits more eloquently into the deck’s primary gameplan, rewarding us for what we are already trying to do every turn: hit the opponent. Casting 2 spells in a turn is nice, and it happens often enough in this deck, but it is not the OBJECTIVE of the deck–the objective is to clear the board and hit your opponent, so Jhessian Thief more adequately rewards us for working toward our primary objective.

expedite

I’m fairly convinced that Expedite + Jace is just broken, not to mention its inherent synergies with Abbot of Keral Keep and Jhessian Thief. But most of the time, I just cast it for prowess triggers at instant speed for one mana while catching a free card and feeding Treasure Cruise/Jace, which really feels busted also. In this situation, we can cast it on one of our opponent’s creatures to close any window of opportunity they might have to remove our target in response and generate a 2 for 1. This card really has so many uses that it would be impossible to mention them all, but one more great application is playing Jace and holding Expedite in anticipation of a removal spell with 3+ spells in the yard (or even 2 with a fetchland to crack). When your opponent tries to kill Jace, convinced that he can’t flip into a walker and evade their removal spell until next turn, respond by casting Expedite on him, tapping him, and flipping him. Similarly, Jace can block a fatty then flip before damage when your opponent least expects it. Gross.

Slip Through Space

Slip Through Space is a card that almost made the cut, and although it was nice casting it on Jhessian Thief, overall it lacked the versatility, reliability, and tempo-advantage of other cards like Clutch of Currents and Expedite. In a more aggressive and linear deck, I think it would be a lot better, but I would still hesitate to play it because it is so narrow and invites easy 2-1’s for any opponent with instant speed removal. This could be mitigated by maindecking Dispel, which would make for sick lines of play that enable a lot of prowess triggers, but it is just not the direction this particular build is heading–our strength is in versatility and tempo advantage.

The sideboard is pretty self-explanatory. Radiant Flames is at its best in this deck, as we can reliably cast it for 1, 2, or 3 damage as needed so it wipes our opponent’s board while only buffing our own, making for an extremely one-sided sweeper. The sideboard is tuned toward the current big-dogs of the format like Abzan Aggro, Atarka Red, Esper Dragons, and Dark Jeskai, but will likely be tweaked as the new metagame crystallizes. Obviously, expanding on the black splash could certainly be a welcome addition, gaining access to Duress, Tasigur, Duress, Murderous Cut,  Kolaghan’s Command to get back Abbot, and by the way did I mention that Duress would be bonkers in this deck?

Overall, I am very happy with this deck and optimistic about its capacity to grow and adapt to the newly emerging metagame. I am excited to start playing it once OGW becomes a part of Standard. Thanks for reading, stay tuned for updates and expanded commentary as the deck continues to develop, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions or just let me know what you think below!

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One thought on “Red/Blue Delver in Oath of the Gatewatch Standard

  1. If anyone is interested in viewing a more aggressive version of this deck, check out my article entitled “A Palette of Red (Deck Winning)”, which features an aggro version about halfway down the page.

    Like

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